Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Feb. 5

The first of a recurring series in which I will endeavor to answer your questions. Submit them using the form to the right, and let's get to it:

BILL PRESTON FROM SPRING HILL, FL:
I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and retired in Florida. My question is that since the Steelers have invested quite a bit of time and money in Cortez Allen to give up on him, are they and Cortez doing anything in the offseason to correct and improve his pass coverage?

I agree that the Steelers have invested too much in Cortez Allen to cut him this offseason, and besides they don't exactly have a bunch of talented, young cornerbacks under contact who are just waiting for an opportunity. In fact, a "young cornerback under contact who is just waiting for an opportunity" seemed to be an apt description of Cortez Allen in each of the three previous offseasons. Now things are in a different place, and what happened between that time and today is largely this: Cortez Allen lost his confidence. That is what had to be rebuilt, because his physical skills haven't diminished. But the Collective Bargaining Agreement sets very specific rules about coach/player interaction during the offseason, so most of the work will have to get done during the three-day minicamp, during the 14 OTAs, and then at training camp.

CASEY CONNER FROM ASHEVILLE, NC:
With the number of inside linebackers on the roster and lack of depth at safety, has there been any consideration given to moving Ryan Shazier to safety? He has the speed.

No. None.

ARTHUR EMMANOUILIDIS FROM MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA:
If the Steelers were in the same situation as the Seahawks – second-and-goal from the 1-yard line – would you assume that Mike Tomlin or offensive coordinator Todd Haley would instruct Ben to hand off to Le'Veon? Even someone from Australia could see it was the dumbest play-call of all time.

In that particular situation it was the offensive coordinator – Darrell Bevell – who called the slant pass that was intercepted by Malcolm Butler to secure defeat for the Seattle Seahawks. The fact is that most head coaches don't micromanage individual play-calls in a game, but there is supposed to be a meeting of the minds in terms of how certain situations are to be approached. Based on the offensive identity the Seahawks used to win one Super Bowl and get themselves into position to go back-to-back, giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch in that situation seemed to be a no-brainer. At the time, Lynch had 102 yards on 24 carries and was running violently, rarely being stopped on initial contact. There were 26 seconds left and Seattle still had one timeout, so in my mind if the head coach has to tell the offensive coordinator to run the ball in that situation with a guy like Marshawn Lynch – who might be the best short-yardage back in football – then the head coach needs to find himself a different offensive coordinator.

RUSS BAILEY FROM WILLIAMSPORT, PA:
It seems the grass held up better this year than in years past. Will they ever put artificial turf in at Heinz Field?

The Rooneys strongly believe that football should be played on grass, that it's a safer alternative for the players than artificial turf. And when Heinz Field was built, the Rooney family also believed it should be a facility that was a part of the community, and so Pitt plays its home games there and the WPIAL has been playing its championship games there since it opened in 2001. In the early years of Heinz Field, there was an experiment with a surface called DD Grassmaster, which was a combination of natural grass with artificial fibers. I won't bore you with the details, but that didn't work out because it couldn't be re-sodded if necessary. It's now natural grass, and the Steelers typically re-sod the area of the field between the numbers some time toward late-October, and then they re-sod the entire field after the high school championship games in late-November. This procedure has been used for the last several years, and it has worked nicely. Never say never when it comes to artificial turf at Heinz Field, but I believe they're happy with the way it is.

DWIGHT KEY FROM BELLINGHAM, WA:
Do you think the Steelers are ever going to address cornerback by drafting one or getting a good one in free agency?

In an interview just last week, Steelers President Art Rooney II said, "I think obviously on the back end we need to add some players," with his reference to the back end being the defensive backfield. Based on that, I expect the team to target defensive backs in free agency and in this draft. That said, you can only shop for what's available. We'll have to see what free agency presents at cornerback, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the team pick a couple of defensive backs over, say, the first four rounds of the 2015 draft.

JOHN PFEFFER FROM CINCINNATI, OH
I moved to Pittsburgh in 1998 from Cincinnati and quickly had steel injected into my veins. I recently moved back to Cincinnati to be closer to family, but while in Pittsburgh I noticed almost immediately that the Steeler's did not have cheerleaders as most NFL teams do. Is there any chance that we will see Steelers Cheerleaders in the future?

No. No chance.

TONY SIMPSON FROM BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND:
Why do the Steelers struggle in games played on the West Coast (and in London), and what are they doing about it for the new season?

During his first press conference after being hired as the Steelers coach in 1969, Chuck Noll was asked why he thought he'd be able to build a winning team in Pittsburgh after so many others had failed here. Noll's answer was: "Losing has nothing to do with geography." I agree with that premise, but I also did a little research on the subject. Mike Tomlin's teams are 1-4 on the West Coast/London; Bill Cowher's teams were 7-9 on the West Coast; and during his 23 seasons, Chuck Noll was 10-15 on the West Coast. The Steelers have traveled to the West Coast on the Friday before a Sunday game, which is a day early, and sometimes that worked. They have traveled out the day before the game, which is the normal routine, and sometimes that worked. Noll even spent a whole week on the West Coast preparing for a 1983 playoff game against the Raiders, and the Steelers lost that one, 38-10. But over the long haul, there hasn't been a proven formula in terms of travel schedule that has translated into consistent success. There are two cross-country trips in 2015 – Seattle and San Diego – and I'm certain the way Russell Wilson and Philip Rivers play those days will have a greater impact on the outcome than the travel schedule.

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